The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Other Side of the Mountain

By Kelly D. Webb © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

"Mountain bred, mountain born, bears I have killed, and lambs I have shorn." Jamie's voice reached us before he came into view, causing us to anticipate a friendly meeting with the seven year old boy. He came around the curve in the road walking in a rolling, staggering gait. His motions were caused by a crippling disease that wasted the muscle tissue and finally caused death. As Jamie spotted us he raised his voice to make sure we would hear, and continued his song. "Mountain bred, mountain born, if you strike me you have struck a thorn." When he reached us he steadied himself by leaning against the road bank.

Jamie was born a few years after the turn of the [20th] century, before there was medical knowledge of any treatment for his illness. Even today, treatment is not always successful. Before World War II illness and injury, in the mountains, often meant suffering and death. A sore throat, a stomach ache, or an open wound could cause a loved one to be plucked from our midst. This story is about one that modern medicine may not have been able to cure, but it tells of the pluck and grit of one struck down by fate.

When questioned about where he lived, Jamie would reply, "On the other side of the mountain." He loved to tease and sometimes carried a frog in his pocket, to school. One day, when asked where his lunch was, he replied, "In my pocket." He was told to place it on his desk, so Jamie pulled the live frog out and placed it on his desk, much to the teacher's discomfort. After school, he would carry the frog back home and drop it in the creek that ran in front of his house.

At school, when the other children darted about in play, Jamie could be found sitting on the porch steps or perched in some other convenient location watching the others. Time passed and Jamie was noticed to stagger more and to rest more often. When he realized others were watching he would say, "These old shoes cause me to stumble; soon I am going to buy a pair of Buster Brown shoes so I can walk straight." When he had to rest on his way to and from school he said it was because he lived on the other side of the mountain.

In his third year of school, Jamie was having difficulty in standing and holding himself erect in his seat. This was when he started riding in his Red Ryder wagon when he left home. He often said, "When I get my new Buster Brown shoes I will walk again." In traveling to school he would ascend a long hill, allowing the other boys to pull the wagon, however, on the way home he insisted on having control himself, coasting down the hill. Inevitable, he ended up in the ditch with the wagon on top of him. As he was helped up and placed back into the wagon, he would say, "The wheel hit a rock and caused me to wreck." Never once did he admit to his own weakness causing the problem.

Jamie exhibited a skill in carving when he with the other boys used their jack knives to cut a soft soapstone found in the area. The figures he carved were much more lifelike than the ones carved by others. He soon started carving wooden figures and adding mechanical movement. All who saw the wooden toys were fascinated by them. Jamie sold some of the toys he made and soon had saved four dollars. He asked the other children to pull his wagon to the country store where he purchased a pair of Buster Brown shoes. Usually he rode in his wagon with his feet tucked under his body, however, this day he rode home with his feet sticking straight ahead of his body, to exhibit his new shoes. When they reached the other side of the mountain, Jamie had the children stop the wagon at the foot of the hill on which his home rested, just before crossing the spring branch. He raised himself up with his hands and stood on his feet in front of the wagon. Jamie moved his feet as if to walk and then fell face forward into the branch. The other children pulled him from the water and tried to help him stand on his feet again, Jamie did not respond. They placed him back into the wagon and pulled it home. Jamie's mother helped him change his clothes and get into bed. Then, Jamie cried; the low moaning sobs of heartbreak, as he admitted to himself the hopelessness of his situation. The next morning he asked his mother to put his shoes away, and he told her he was not going back to the other side of the mountain.

Jamie did travel away from home again. He was taken to special events at the school, and occasionally he rode his wagon to the country store. There the other boys would pull his wagon fast and pretend they would let it go over the high bank nearby. He would laugh and enjoy the play, but Jamie had resigned himself to the fact that he would not be able to do the things most boys do. Many visited him at home, taking homemade candy and popcorn balls, on special occasions.

Finally, Jamie became so helpless that he had to remain in bed. He was there several years until one morning he told his mother that his back hurt, he then turned his face to the wall and died. No, Jamie does not live on the other side of the mountain now. He has moved into the hearts of those who knew him, where he stands straight and tall.